Date: March 14, 2003
Byline: Gabrielle Birkner
Hundreds expected to attend American Crossword Puzzle TournamentSTAMFORD Hundreds of crossword puzzle aficionados from around the world will make their yearly pilgrimage to Stamford this weekend for the 26th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which starts tonight at the Stamford Marriott.
"Solving crossword puzzles is normally a solitary activity," said Will Shortz, 50, tournament founder and New York Times crossword editor. "This weekend is a chance for puzzleheads from all over to get together and share their passion."
For millions of Americans who tackle crosswords, it is an addiction.
"It's mental exercise that's so ingrained in me," said Jay Kasofsky, 62, of Woodridge, N.Y., a longtime puzzle-solver who has attended the tournament since its inception in 1978. "This is one habit I'll never quit."
But when the tournament ends Sunday, first-time participant Michael Molyneux of Darien said he will swear off crossword puzzles indefinitely.
"It's just too addictive," said Molyneux, a section editor at The New York Times who solves an average of three crossword puzzles per day.
"It's an escape to venture into the world of little white boxes," he said. "You feel far removed from all the things that you have to do that day."
Molyneux prepared to compete after attending the tournament championship last year.
"It was amazing to watch people tear through a tough puzzle in five or 10 minutes," he said. "I thought it would be fun to see how I stacked up."
During his training, he has picked up a lot of trivia, Molyneux said.
"I'll never forget the name of Bambi's aunt Ena," he said, invoking a popular crossword puzzle clue and answer. "I'll never forget that Nesslerode Pie was named after a Russian nobleman."
Molyneux will be one of about 500 tournament participants who each will pay a $115 registration fee to put their trivia knowledge and puzzle-solving skills to the test. They will be judged on their speed and accuracy by top crossword puzzle constructors and editors. Three finalists will compete Sunday on giant crossword grids for the $2,000 grand prize.
Molyneux and Kasofsky said they do not expect to place among the finalists.
"As I've gotten older, I'm not as quick as I used to be," said Kasofsky, a retired high school history teacher. "I'm not as well-versed in computers and modern things. I know I'm not going to win, but I just do it for fun and for the camaraderie."
Despite different backgrounds, participants, who this year are 17 to 85 years old, form bonds, Shortz said. There will be writers, editors, teachers, a cinematographer, black-jack dealer and roboticist. A handful of participants will travel from Europe for the tournament, the biggest crossword puzzle competition in the United States.
"What these people have in common is that they have flexible minds," said Shortz, a former Stamford resident who lives in Pleasantville, N.Y. "They also tend to be well-read and to have a good sense of humor."
Shortz was editor of Games magazine for 15 years before landing his job at the Times in 1993, widely considered the most prestigious job in puzzling.
"There is so much knowledge in the world," Shortz said, "and I try to encompass all of it literature, opera, classical music, geography up to modern subjects like movies, TV, rock 'n' roll and sports."
Kasofsky solves the Times' crosswords each day.
"Since Will Shortz became the crossword editor, they have become a lot more fun," Kasofsky said. "The puzzles have twists and themes that are so clever that sometimes I burst out laughing when I figure out what's going on."